The recent reports on BBC Breakfast and news (17/08/15) makes for scary listening. The figure quoted for the number of people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is now over 3.3 million. This costs the NHS £10 billion per year and accounts for approximately 10% of the total bill for prescribed medicine – but this information is nothing new!
The ‘Key Statistics on Diabetes’ Report (Diabetes UK, December 2011) states that “most health experts agree that the UK is facing a huge increase in the number of people with diabetes”. It added that the figure of 2.9 million in 2011 was expected to reach 5 million by 2025 – from this recent BBC report, that seems to be a conservative assessment! It concludes that if we are to curb this growing health crisis and reduce the number of people dying from diabetes and its complications, we need to increase awareness of risks, bring about wholesale changes in lifestyle, improve self-management among people with diabetes and improve access to integrated diabetes care services. There are many more notable statistics in the report, e.g. the estimated 850,000 people in the UK who have diabetes but have not been diagnosed and more than 1 in 20 has diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed). Even more concerning is that the incidence of diabetes in England rises from 4% at age 0-4 to 10.7% at 17 for Type 1 and from 0% to 15.6% for Type 2 for the same age range. We suggest that readers of this article follow up the reports online.
If diabetes is not managed properly there are many serious associated complications e.g. heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, amputations and premature mortality.
Similarly there are several risk factors that can increase the chances of developing diabetes, e.g. genetics and ethnicity, but the two most potent, particularly for Type 2 are:
a) Obesity – This is the biggest risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Almost 62% of women and 66% of men in the UK are overweight/obese. In 2009/10 almost 1 in 4 children in England in reception year were overweight/obese. By year 6 this had risen to 1 in 3.
b) Deprivation – The Diabetes UK report stated that deprivation is strongly linked to higher levels of obesity and unhealthy diet and lifestyle. All are inextricably linked to risk of diabetes or serious complications for those already diagnosed.
Bearing in mind that this information has been available for at least the past 4 years, what has the coalition’s, and now the Conservative government’s, response been?
David Cameron (Prime Minister) – At the last election he promised an extra £8 billion a year for the NHS by 2020. Taking diabetes alone, this is a drop in the ocean.
George Osbourne (Chancellor) – The result of his welfare and tax credit cuts will mean that those on benefits and low incomes having less money to spend on nutritional meals. Forcing families to rely on food banks won’t cure obesity Mr Osbourne!
Jeremy Hunt (Health Minister) – Instead of investing in identifying those at risk of diabetes and funding health education programmes, he prefers privatising NHS catering, resulting in warmed up, tasteless and low nutritional food for patients. Instead of working with front line health care professionals he chooses to bully GPs into working a 7-day week, without the resources to match. This is a diet for disaster Mr Hunt!
Nicky Morgan (Education Minister) – She has continued the work of her ‘illustrious’ predecessor by putting extra pressure on teachers and students to adjust to a new narrower curriculum, changing grading from letters to numbers and forcing schools into Academy status. This means schools have less time and money to educate students on a healthy lifestyle, diet and exercise, that prepares them for adulthood and parenthood.
So, what can the Labour Party do?
Nationally, we can begin by opposing the Conservative ideology of austerity wherever that detracts from meeting the challenge of dealing with the devastating effects of diabetes.
Locally, we have already begun by fulfilling our commitment to visiting and supporting the work of local youth organisations. We would particularly like to recognise those such as Bicester Athletics Club, Bicester Boxing Club and Bicester Blue Fins, who encourage their members to aspire to a healthy lifestyle, featuring a healthy diet, exercise and self-discipline.
If we face up to the challenges of dealing with diabetes now, not only do we have the chance to save the NHS from financial crisis, but also we can take pride in creating a fitter and healthier current generation that is less of a burden to the ones that come after.